Week commencing 2nd December 2022 http://www.newworker.org/
IN A DESPERATE attempt at sounding radical Sir Keir Starmer has made reform of the House of Lords his latest project. He says he wants to replace it with an elected second chamber, telling Labour peers that the public’s faith in politics had been undermined by successive Tory leaders handing out peerages to “lackeys and donors” and that this is all going to end when he’s in charge.
We have, of course, heard this all before. In opposition Labour leaders talk about the reform or abolition of the House of Lords. They’ve done this for years – but once in power they find that they cannot afford to give up the Prime Minister’s patronage of the Upper House, which does indeed enable them to reward the “lackeys and donors” Starmer claims to despise.
During the Blair era New Labour promised to remove all the hereditary peers from the House of Lords and replace it with some sort of elected Senate. In the end, however, all that happened was another minor reform that abolished the automatic right of hereditary peers to sit in the House of Lords but allowed 92 of their number to remain to uphold the hereditary principle, along with the 26 bishops who sit as “Lords Spiritual” as representatives of the Church of England.
Whilst rewarding your followers is an essential part and parcel of bourgeois politics, the House of Lords isn’t. Bourgeois republics such as the USA and France manage quite well without an appointed Upper House. Others operate without any Second House to oversee the actions of their parliaments.
Some think the Lords exists to uphold the rights of inheritance. But these ‘rights’ are actually upheld by the bourgeois ‘right to private property’ that goes far beyond the old feudal concepts of inheritance by claiming people must be allowed to use what they own as they see fit, and leave it to whom they see fit.
The real purpose of the House of Lords is, essentially, to justify and maintain the hereditary principle that justifies the Monarchy and the Anglican church, which the monarch heads. Its abolition would mean that the only hereditary post left would be that of the Monarch, which would inevitably then face demands for reform that could easily evolve into the sort of republicanism the bourgeoisie turned their backs on when they got rid of the Stuarts and put William of Orange on the throne during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.
Just a generation before these momentous events the House of Lords had been abolished by the ‘Rump’ parliament of the fledgling Republic of England that had already abolished the monarchy and the Church of England with the deposition, trial and execution of Charles I in 1649. The House of Lords that was said to be “useless and dangerous to the people of England” remained closed until the Stuart restoration in 1660 and we’ve been lumbered with the Lords ever since. But it’s still useless – and the sooner it goes the better.